Putin backs Egypt army chief’s run for president

Putin backs Egypt army chief’s run for president
Fri Feb 14, 2014 09:44:31

Russian President Vladimir Putin has wished Egypt’s military chief victory in the nation’s presidential vote, even though he has yet to announce his bid, a strong endorsement signaling Moscow’s desire to expand its military and other ties with a key US ally in the Middle East.

Putin appeared Thursday to be capitalizing on a growing move by Persian Gulf nations – particularly Saudi Arabia – to move the Middle East off its traditional reliance on the United States.

The United States scolded Putin for the endorsement, assuring that a warming of relations between Cairo and Moscow wouldn’t harm the “historic” ties shared between Egypt and the United States, which have soured in recent months.

“Of course we don’t endorse a candidate and don’t think it’s, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr Putin to decide who should govern Egypt,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf. “It’s up to the Egyptian people to decide.”

Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Moscow comes amid reports of a $2 billion Egyptian arms deal with Russia to be funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of Egypt’s shift to reduce reliance on the United States.

“The United States’ influence is steadily waning in the region for several years,” said Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Traditional allies like the Saudis are becoming more and more suspicious, and U.S. credibility in the region is at stake.

Without naming the US, the Kremlin criticized what it regards as American interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Russia’s ties with the US have been badly strained by disputes ranging from Syria’s civil war, to missile defense plans in Europe, to Moscow’s human rights record.

Sisi didn’t mention his presidential ambitions in brief opening remarks, but emphasized his focus on ensuring security, saying that the country’s military is capable of providing it.

The 59-year old Sisi, who rose to prominence after the ouster of elected President Mohammad Morsi, is popular among a large segment of Egyptians and is widely expected to announce a candidacy for presidential elections that are likely due in late April.

Putin’s statement could be a reflection of widespread predictions in Egypt that the infantry officer will win a landslide in the presidential vote. It also reflected the Russian leader’s intention to forge close relations with Egypt under Sisi.


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